Our retirement community in north Florida has a rich history of serving others in Christ’s name. In fact, our mission is to express Christ’s love by providing compassionate care and quality comprehensive services for senior adults, families with special needs, and children, within a secure, supportive residential setting, and in the surrounding communities.
As the first retirement community in Florida, it all started with Thomas Dowling, a visionary and affluent businessman from Live Oak, Florida who dreamed of building an educational and religious camp on 120-acres of land in Dowling Park.
Although Dowling’s vision halted after his death in 1911, his legacy lived on through his pastor, Burr A.L. Bixler. In 1912, Bixler had received a letter from a dying widow asking if there was an American Advent Christian orphanage where her two sons could be raised in the faith she loved. Sadly, there was not, but the request provided inspiration for the idea of building such a home for both orphans and “worn-out” workers, or preachers, and their wives.
Thus, over a hundred years ago, a ministry of caring for orphans and senior adults was born in Dowling Park. In late 1913, five siblings, ages two to 10 years old, arrived from North Carolina to live in the newly-built orphanage known as the Advent Christian Home and Orphanage. In July of 1914, the first retiree, Elder Henry Smith from California, was admitted, followed in September by Elder and Sister Albert Gordon, fondly known as “Grandpa and Grandma Gordon” from Maine, firmly establishing Advent Christian Home and Orphanage as Florida’s first retirement community.
Advent Christian Village has evolved over the years in new and exciting ways. By 1921, the orphanage was home to 68 children and was still growing, which meant additional resources were needed to house, clothe, feed and educate the growing number of residents. Then, a fire destroyed the original children’s home in 1925. Thanks to the contributions from both a young real estate magnate, C.W. DeLong, and other Advent Christians, DeLong Hall was constructed in 1928, later followed by the addition of Dowling Hall after a series of setbacks.
Also in 1921, Thomas Dowling’s dream of a campground came true, with the first camp meeting held in Dowling Park with worship services, sleeping and dining all taking place in tents. Carpenters also set to work on a new 25-room, three-story Home for the Aged, which included state-of-the-art innovations such as hot and cold water, lavatories, steam heat and push-button call bells in each room.
Hardships continued throughout the late 1920s and 1930s with the Great Depression, however, the community continued to function thanks to the generous people from AC churches across the country supplying provisions like food, clothing, farm animals and funds. The 1940s and 1950s were also tough, due to calamities like the Suwannee River flooding and a severe drought.
However, the 1960s through the 1980s brought more financial stability, innovative changes, and additions to the community. In 1974, Dowling House was dedicated in memory of Thomas and Laura Dowling and William Dowling, standing in the former site of Dowling Hall. The addition of this HUD facility allowed ACV to become the nation’s first comprehensive retirement community to offer low-income seniors the full availability of its continuum of services. Other additions throughout the 70s and 80s included:
By 2003, the 20-year Master Development Plan become reality. Enhancements like the Village Church and Christian Education Complex, Alumni Memorial Circle, Good Samaritan Center, Dacier Manor, and Copeland Community Center were all completed, making ACV the thriving retirement community in Florida it is today.
Today, the mission of Advent Christian Village continues, serving children, families with special needs and seniors through the benevolent ministry. Our village consists of a variety of housing options including rental options and home ownership, HUD-subsidized apartments, places to eat, shops, a state-of-the-art medical center, and so much more. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule a tour.